LIVING ON THE OUTSKIRTS of Boulder, Colorado, Kelley Cluzel and her husband Bill were in the market to buy a house closer to town. Cluzel hoped to shorten her 15-mile commute so that she could bike to work.
“I thought pedaling from house to house would be a great way to judge how bike friendly each home was,” she said.
One Sunday, she and her husband spent three hours riding to seven houses with an agent from Pedal to Properties, a Boulder, Colorado-based real estate company that gives house hunters the option of going from property to property by bike—cruisers to be exact.
“We eventually chose a house less than two miles from my job and commutable entirely by bike paths,” Cluzel said.
Pedal to Properties is basically what its name implies. Matt Kolb formed the company in the wake of a financial loss. In early 2006, Kolb worked for another real estate firm. After showing a prospective buyer a $1.5 million home from which he walked away, Kolb learned that the gentleman went back to his hotel and took a cruiser bike back through the neighborhood to get to a restaurant.
That buyer ended up acquiring the property, but not through Kolb. “I lost $35,000,” Kolb said.
But from that loss came the idea for Pedal to Properties. Between its Boulder office and local hotels, Pedal to Properties has roughly 50 bikes that are maintained weekly by its own mechanic. The company used Electra cruisers to start, switched over to Trek within the last year, and is now going to give it a go themselves.
“We began the process of building our own bikes almost a year ago and the first production is being shipped as we speak,” Kolb said. Every person that rides a bike must fill out a liability waver form and wear a helmet.
Kolb’s start-up cost wasn’t as much as one might think. “Even though we now have 25-plus agents working for us, we started off small with just a handful of agents so the start-up costs were relatively low,” Kolb said.
Unlike most real estate companies, which have taken a hit over the past couple of years from the housing bubble bust, Pedal to Properties is flourishing. Kolb and Tim Majors, president of U.S. operations, attribute their success to their location and unique formula.
“The Boulder market is a very resilient market—one of the best housing markets in the country,” Majors said. “We are probably one of the few real estate companies to grow anywhere in the U.S. We grew from four to 30 agents in the past 12 months.”
Pedal to Properties recently opened new franchises in Northampton, Massachusetts and Sonoma, California. Majors said the company is about to close contracts with franchisees in Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Orlando, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin; Atlanta, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina.
“We are on target to open 20 offices by Christmas and our three-year budget is to have at least 100 franchised offices open in the United States,” Majors said, adding that plans are underway to grow the concept in Canada and other countries.
Majors was one of Kolb’s clients in early 2009. Kolb helped him and his wife buy a home shortly after they moved from Australia, where Majors is originally from.
“I thought it was a novel and beneficial experience for the client to see the neighborhood, the proximity to schools, shops and public amenities,” Majors said.
In the cycling hotbed of Boulder, Majors estimates that roughly a quarter of Pedal to Properties’ clients view homes by bike.
“We believe this figure will remain high in many markets because of the cycling renaissance in many towns and cities across North America,” Majors said. “Our first franchisee is from Northampton, and from what we’ve seen this is an even bigger cycling community—on a percentage basis—than Boulder.”
Pedal to Properties gets its name out through social media, local event sponsorship and an ambassador program of bike shop owners and government agencies in different areas of the country who help spread the word.
And to further encourage and promote the development of better bicycle infrastructure, Pedal to Properties recently partnered with Bikes Belong to donate a percentage of all franchise sales to the advocacy organization.
“Our belief is that good things happen when people are on bicycles,” said Bruno Maier, vice president of Bikes Belong. “What Pedal to Properties does—encouraging home buyers to learn about homes and neighborhoods from a bicycle—is innovative and something we fully support.”
Both Majors and Kolb believe riding bikes to view homes slows down the buying process, which makes for a more enjoyable experience overall.
“It’s what they see that they can’t see from the car,” said Kolb, who runs the Boulder office. “It’s also what they hear. What’s the traffic like?”
Kolb also said that bike riding helps ease the stress home buyers feel—especially first-timers—as they take on heavier financial responsibilities.
“You bury your soul financially. You bury your soul emotionally,” Kolb said of buying a home. Riding a bike “helps you de-stress,” he added.